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Late Night

Women make a charming challenge to the boys’ comedy club

 

CAPTION: © Amazon Studios Late-night talk-show host Katherine ­Newberry (Emma Thompson), right, worries that she may lose her long-running show so she brings in writer Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling).

      The only woman in a field of men, Katherine Newberry (Emma Thompson) is at the top of the late-night game. She has countless awards, uncompromising standards and a massive legacy. She doesn’t have ratings, however.

      And she has grown complacent, ready to blame her writers rather than change her dying show to keep up with the times … Until she learns she’s on the chopping block. Then she demands radical revision so she can go out on top.

     In comes Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), joining the writing staff as the only woman and the only person of color. Molly has no comedy-writing background, but she brings new human experiences that translate into fresh new bits. Her adoration of Katherine also informs her writing, and she convinces the host to try a more personal, controversial approach to monologues.

     This utterly winning film is funny, charming and full of modern insights about race and gender woes in the workplace. Unlike typical comedies starring women, the love story isn’t really the point. The theme is how two women help each other become the best versions of themselves. That doesn’t sound like a laugh-riot, but with Kaling pulling double duty as the writer/star, the material sings. 

     Kaling is a known comedy entity, and Thompson a happy surprise. Returning to her roots in comedy, she shines as Katherine, a ruthless woman whose sarcasm extends to her staff. Her rare moments of vulnerability are funnier, as if Katherine is physically allergic to being a nice person.

     Despite this dream team, Late Night has flaws. Hugh Dancy is horribly miscast as a love-interest and standup comedian. John Lithgow is underused as Thompson’s husband. That’s a shame considering his caliber. Still, this movie was never about the boys, so a few sour notes on their parts doesn’t ruin the story.

     The movie nicely illustrates the faults in a patriarchal system. Both women in this movie are brash and say what they feel unapologetically. They’re not always rewarded for their frankness, but the movie respects them for making that choice. It’s funny, however, that a movie featuring no nudity is still rated R because women use salty language to express anger and frustration. 

     If you’re a fan of Kaling’s pop culture-centric humor, or if you want to see Thompson let loose in a comedy role, Late Night is an excellent choice. 

Good Comedy • R • 102 mins.

 

~~~ New this Week ~~~

The Dead Don’t Die

      Centerville is a sleepy little town with one diner and a rundown motel. The three-cop police force shares one squad car. It’s the perfect place for a zombie invasion.

     When a fracking crisis throws the globe off its axis, the dead rise. Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Deputy Ronnie Peterson and a Scottish funeral director with an affinity for samurai swords (Tilda Swinton) are the town and world’s defense against destruction.

     This parody is delightfully weird. Director Jim Jarmusch picks apart zombie-movie conventions, playing fast and loose with the fourth wall as he weaves his story. Like most Jarmusch films, The Dead Don’t Die takes its time, so expect a slow build rather than constant action and carnage. 

Prospects: Bright • R • 105 mins. 

Men in Black: International

     As a little girl, Agent M (Tessa Thompson) caught sight of the mysterious Men in Black. Finally successful in her life goal to join them, she becomes a top agent in MIB’s American headquarters. 

     Will her skill work in England? Will M and her new partner H (Chris Hemsworth) be able to stop an invasion? 

     There has been one truly good Men in Black movie, which isn’t a great track record for a series that now has four films. Still, Hemsworth and Thompson have proven a great comedic team in the Thor films. They may save the franchise from the tail dive — at least for fans of zany alien antics. 

Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 115 mins. 

Shaft

    When JJ (Jessie T. Usher) loses his best friend, he turns to his father, John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) to help investigate. Finding himself out of his element, John asks for help from his father (Richard Roundtree). Thus three generations of Shaft men team up to uncover the conspiracy behind the murder. 

     Historically, Shaft has been the film series that featured bad mother – shut your mouth! comedy. This movie should be more of the same. Plus, it lets Jackson show off his comedic chops.

     If you’re a fan of the original Shaft movies or of Jackson and Roundtree’s fantastic chemistry, this flick should be well worth the ticket. 

Prospects: Bright • R • 115 mins.